5 tips to deal with angry field service customers

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I’m working in the office of a property maintenance company at the moment, mapping their processes, looking for efficiencies and installing Flobot. It’s a good office, lots of fun and hard work and they are a good company providing a great service to their corporate clients. I think we are going to make them even better and save them a lot of wasted time and money on administration.

They process around 1500 property service jobs per month here, from plumbing, building and electrical work to roofing and flooring. I’ve been here a week and I’ve only heard a handful of calls come in from someone who has something to complain about, so they must be doing something right. As they are dealing mostly with the corporate world their clients are pretty well behaved. They simply can’t flip out and go off the deep end. And so we have a nice, productive environment where any problems are dealt with in a professional manner and subsequently get dealt with much more efficiently.

This is in pretty much stark contrast to one of my other clients who provides property maintenance and handyman services to consumers in London. I spend a lot of time in their office because it helps us test the software, they are around the corner from my house and they have a Nespresso machine that they are very generous with.

Anyway, they also do a good job. They are dedicated, they care about their customers and always try to fix any problems that arise. But on average every week they have a ‘difficlut’ customer and I would say perhaps once a month, they have a customer who simply goes ballistic on them. The problem is that with no-one to keep the domestic customer in check, every so often you get one that has underlying issues that resurface the minute a job starts to go wrong.

Now, most customers are demanding and that’s fair enough. We are all customers at some stage and we know that not everything goes right. It’s how it is dealt with when it goes wrong that really determines how we feel about the company after all is said and done and whether we will use them again. But some customers are just so angry before the job has started they are positively waiting for something to go wrong so that they can vent the frustrations of their very existence to someone they are guaranteed has to listen.

So, how should you deal with them?

Well, I’m no expert in customer service and I think it’s one of the most challenging, under valued and worst paid jobs on the planet. But my very good customer is very good at it and so I’ve summarized his advice into five stages.

Now, before take the call from Mrs Angry, always remember that she is most likely not trying to be personal and remain as calm as is humanly possible at all times. Losing your temper is like returning fire and this is how wars are started.

1. Listen, confirm, listen, summarize, listen

Your angry customer wants to vent their frustration and for that they need someone to listen – that’s going to be you, I’m afraid. So hear them out and when they are done talking, summarize what you’ve heard and let them have their second opportunity to vent. As they talk they generally work themselves up again, so listen, confirm what you’ve heard again then ask any questions to further clarify their complaint. In the majority of cases the customer will move from DEFCON 1 to DEFCON 2 or 3 just with this move.

2. Take the sting out of the tail and apologize

Once you have listened to what they have said, got the facts (as best you can) your next step is to apologize. Even if it isn’t your fault. Show them that you care personally about their problem by saying that you ‘sincerely apologize’ and ‘I’m really sorry’. And you have to sound genuine by the way.

3. Empathize and sympathize

Stage three is to show empathy. Your customer is not just angry about what has happened (or not happened) they are angry about the way it has made them feel. And they want someone to acknowledge that. They want you to feel as bad about it as they do. So, you need to show empathy. ‘I can understand how frustrating this is for you’ and ‘I can see how upsetting that is for you’. And don’t use words like ‘angry’ use words like ‘sympathise with you’ ‘understand’ ’empathise’. Soothing words that will calm them down. We should be at DEFCON 4 now.

4. Accept responsibility and tell them how you’re going to help

Now that your customer has (hopefully) calmed down, tell them that you personally are going to do something about this. They are looking for a champion to make these problems go away. That doesn’t mean that you can or even in some cases that you should. But you’ve listened, you’ve sympathized and now you are going to take action and they can leave this with you for a resolution.

5. Now go and do what you said you were going to do

This final step is often the most overlooked. But actually doing it will mean that you probably won’t have to deal with that customer, in that state again. So, if you have promised the customer a call at 3pm to update them, then you need to call them at 3pm. If the manager is going to call them then you need to make sure that the manager does call them. And if they can’t or don’t – you need to call them to tell them that. Otherwise you have broken a promise and you will find yourself back at stage one or worse.

Once you have completed stage four go out and have a fag, a vape, a coffee or a tea. Even if it went well you’ve just been involved in a stressful situation so give yourself some time for your heart rate to normalize. And rememeber, it’s always hard to come up with a perfect solution for a customer in this state and even if you handle things perfectly, some people simply cannot be appeased – but never let that stop you from making your best effort.

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